Making its debut in the 1960’s, Star Trek became television phenomena. Before it became a hit TV series, Star Trek was cancelled and then made a return. From there on, the show got the accolade that it deserved. It marked the beginning of other science fiction programs such as Space: 1999 and 80’s programs like Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th century. The Star Trek franchise made its debut on September 8, 1966 on NBC. For three years, Star Trek was a regular fixture in the network . After only two years of airing, NBC thought of scrapping the program from its list of shows.
Through a letter-writing campaign from its fans, Star Trek had a new lease on life and run for another year. However, it did not perform well in the ratings game and was eventually terminated without any future. On its third year of showing, Star Trek was ready for syndication and captivated audience belonging to the after-school market during the 1970s . It was during this time that Star Trek started to see a growth in its fan base and became a phenomenon. Merchandising increased, an animated series found its way in the television.
After more than forty years since its inception, four new television series and ten movies were created, and an animated series was born. Hundreds of books and magazines and Internet sites likewise came into being. The 1960s was also a time when social and political turbulence was pervading in American society. It was the time when the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. The call for equality, protests actions, and boycotts were seen everywhere. Alongside the airing of Star Trek, network televisions also showed the nationwide struggle for civil rights.
Those who called for equal civil rights usually faced harsh confrontations with their opponents . Star Trek was a phenomenon during the 1960s at a time when the United States was experiencing turmoil in its political history. Was the creation of this television series socially significant? Did it have any relevance on the happenings during that time? Did it really mirror the realities of that time? This paper shall focus on the social relevance of Star Trek at a time when a call for equality was the biggest battle cry. The Legacy of Star Trek The original Star Trek series was shown on NBC from 1966 to 1969.
For three years, it aired 78 episodes. This science fiction program happened sometime in the 23rd Century and features the USS Enterprise that was commissioned by the Starfleet Command to explore the galaxy. The ship consists of a very diverse crew mostly composed of humans. The ship’s commander, Captain James Kirk (played by William Shatner), is known for being witty and having a strong character . One of Capt. Kirk’s most admired characteristics is his ability to weigh opposing views from his first officer Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), his chief medical officer.
The exploits of the crew are always marked by bizarre situations involving tremendous stakes. However, due to their creativity, bravery, and passion, the crew always finds a way to beat the odds. The popularity of Star Trek is monumental in a sense that it stirred a fan base reaching over a million and to date remains shown in more than 100 countries throughout the world. It was even converted into an animated series that ran for 22 episodes four years after the original series ended. Here the original cast members lend their voice and play their original roles.
However, the animated version was not easily accepted as part of the Star Trek canon . 1960s was a time when the Civil Rights Movement was at its highest. During this time, prominent figures such as James Meredith, Martin Luther King Jr. , Malcolm X, Stokey Carmichael, voiced out their demand for racial equality between the blacks and the whites. Star Trek was highly acclaimed because it tackled the sensitive issue of race and sexuality that was the prevailing condition during that time . Star Trek was a mirror of the social change being clamored for during that time.
Its main cast had a black woman, an Asian and Russian male. The episode entitled “Plato’s Stepchildren,” involved a white man (Captain Kirk) kissing a black lady (Uhura), which is the first inter-racial kiss on American television. Star Trek was trekking uncharted waters by incorporating social change in its episodes . The biggest legacy of Star Trek, according to an article by David Greven, is that the show fought for everything that defied human equality such as authoritarianism, rejection of ethnocentrism, among others. Most of its episodes posed repeated challenge on an individual’s unblinking submission to authority .
1960s America was a time when equality between races was an issue but Star Trek was a living proof that it was possible for all races and two genders to work in harmony and equally. Life after Star Trek In 1976, seven years after Star Trek was canceled, NASA named its first space shuttle orbiter, Enterprise after the fictional craft. It conducted a series of flight tests but the space agency aborted its plan of making the Enterprise space worthy deeming it as impractical. However, it was used to investigate the Columbia accident in 2003.
The Enterprise is now in display at the Steven F. Udar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution . As the shows fan-based increased in the mid 70s, Gene Rodenberry was the man behind the series who thought of resurrecting Star Trek via its second television series entitled Star Trek: Phase II. But he abandoned the plan instead the first Star Trek theatrical movie came into being in 1979. Star Trek: The Movie grossed over $80 million igniting several more movies in the next decade. In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation found its way into American television.
The series lasted seven seasons, produced two sequels and four movies, and ignited a vast marketing business. The Social Relevance of Star Trek The 1960 Star Trek was the epitomy of the reality that existed that time. In most of its episodes it reflected real life events happening in the United States during that time. This decade marked the beginning of contemporary feminist movement. While major developments in the women’s rights movement was still several years behind, it was gaining momentum and Star Trek was on a collision course with this movement.
Due to several circumstances, however, this was not meant to be. Instead, Star Trek depicted the status quo of the 1960s as far as equality of sex and women’s rights. While it had the opportunity to break new grounds as far as the role of women is concerned, Star Trek failed to deliver on this one and decided to pursue a less active and supporting role for its female characters. This was the picture that was happening in 1960 when the feminism in America gained ground but never found its mark in society until the early 1970s.
Racial Equality The 1960s was the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Prior to Star Trek’s pilot episode in 1966, Congress had already enacted a number of Civil Rights Acts as well as Voting Rights Act in 1965. In District of Columbia, where most of the population was black, the right to vote in the presidential elections was accorded to the people. The first airing of Star Trek in 1966 was timely and the producers of the show deemed that it was ready to send a message to American audiences concerning racial equality.
In the first place, racial equality was very much evident in the crew of the USS Enterprise. Since the goal of the ship was to establish friendship with races from other worlds, it needed to make friends with people from the planet first. Two of its crew members were part of minority groups during that time—Lt. Sulu, who was the ship’s helmsman, and Lt. Uhura, who was the communications officer. In real life, George Takei (Lt. Sulu) was a Japanese-American. In the 1960s, hostilities between the two countries have significantly cooled down.
He was a significant character in the show that it was unimaginable having another helmsman manning the USS Enterprise. On the other hand, Lt. Uhura, played by Nichele Nichols, was an American black woman. Nichele Nichols was even at the point of quitting the show because she was being harassed behind the scenes. However, through the inspiration of Martin Luther King, Jr. , she continued with the show and eventually went on to become the first black female Shuttle astronaut . The show was also ground breaking because it featured the first interracial kiss between a white man and a black woman in one of its shows.
In an interview, Fred Freiberger, who produced the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”, aired on December 22, 1968, was in a difficult situation. They were caught between making Mr. Spock or Capt. Kirk kiss Uhura. If the former were made to do the scene, they would be criticized for being scared to have a white man kiss a black woman. On the other hand, if the latter were made to do the scene without a kiss, they would still be criticized. The producers opted to let Capt. Kirk do the scene and it turned heads.
Another embodiment of racial equality in Star Trek was Mr. Spock himself. He is the half-human half-Vulcan first officer and science officer of the ship. He is the only one of his kind in the Enterprise. Mr. Spock is the most unique among the crew members because of his pointed ears and green blood. Not to mention his passion for pure logic. Militarism and Peace The 1960s was also the time when the United States was facing another struggle in its history—the Vietnam War. This period marked the time when America was poised to challenge Vietnam and another Third World country.
Star Trek embodied the ideals of the United States during that time which was to become the policeman of the world just as the Enterprise is the policeman of the galaxy. Throughout its three-year run, the USS Enterprise has faced many adversaries from the Klingons to the Romulans. They served as threats to the Federation’s aspirations for peace in the Galaxy. In the United States, a conflict was developing between the West and the East. The Soviet Union was emerging as the biggest adversary of the US.
The struggle between the Klingons and the Federation was similar to the growing hostility between America and Vietnam and later on between the US and Soviet Union. One of the episodes in Star Trek mirrored an incident involving the U. S. spy ship Pueblo in 1968. In one of its spying missions in the waters of North Korea, the ship was captured. The captain of the ship was made to confess for spying in exchange for the life of the crew. In the episode “Enterprise Incident”, Captain Kirk was placed in a similar incident wherein the Enterprise entered neutral zone only to be captured by the Romulans.
However, this episode was rewritten in order to make it appear that the spying incident was justified and that the US did the right thing. Conclusion The parallelism between the USS Enterprise and the political situation in the United States during the 1960s was one of the reasons why the Star Trek series was such a huge hit. It mirrored the struggles of the black people to achieve equality with the white race. This was shown in the multi-racial crew of the Enterprise. The Civil Rights Movement was gaining ground during this decade and by the time Star Trek went on air in 1966, there was almost equality between the races.
Star Trek also depicted the struggle of women to achieve equal status with their male counterparts. While the USS Enterprise had female crew members, they occupied secondary positions in the ship. This was the same picture in 1960s American society. Women were battling for equal rights with men. In a certain sense, Star Trek was instrumental in stirring radical changes in the current political situation at that time. It made bold moves that no other television series of that time dared to do. It deals with social issues and had elevated them into a different degree.
After its demise in 1969, the political situation in the United States has improved considerably. Women are now sharing equal rights with men. Now, we can see females occupying corporate and political positions used to be occupied by their male counterparts. In conclusion, Star Trek is considered a phenomenal life experience because it has made us aware of social issues and encourages us to take action, although it divorced from the realities of the 1960s and reemerges in the present genre of new generation.